Sunday, August 12, 2018

Title and Deed—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


“Stranger in a Strange Land”


    This avant-garde experience is a one-man show performed by the always amazing, Todd Van Voris and directed by the also, amazing Jerry Mouawad.  It is written by Will Eno and playing at Imago’s space, 17 SE 8th Ave (Off Burnside) through August 25th.  For more information, call them at 503-231-9581.
     What would it feel like to an alien from another world and, somehow, wind up on our shores?  (Nowadays, if he was smart, he turn tail and head back from whence he came!)  In this case, a being ends up trying to adapt/assimilate/study our way of life because it is evidently similar to his.  An alternate universe, perhaps? 

     
He is obviously lost, in more ways than one.  He is lured into an almost empty space, having only a “Ghost” light as a beacon into this chilly atmosphere.  His world seems sadder and he reflects this.  His world also seems less compassionate than ours (but I think we are slowly catching up with that concept).  He explains his world as an endless parade, only pausing long enough to let the ambulances through.  That says a lot.  It seems when they are birthed, at the first primal scream (of pain or joy?), they are already on the road to death.  A terrible awareness to be born with.

     It seems to be a matter-of-fact existence, a way of coping, perhaps, until they gaze into the Void, the Blackness and see…nothing.  “The rest is silence,” but no peace seems to ensue. They appear to go through the motions, gesturing and gyrating, wandering and wading, rising and failing, knowing “right from left,” as they were taught, but with no firm understanding of motivations, of aspirations, of what-ifs…only aware of sounds, discordant noises, how words are formed with no sense of their meanings.  An existence whose purpose…has no purpose.

     And what does such a being bring with him to this new word?  A satchel with a stick and a lunch box, empty (but has room to put something into it if one desires). My take on it…the old Jonathon Winters routine, where he’s challenged to find a use in a stick.  His solution?  It can be anything you want…a spyglass, a sword, a future tree, etc.  And the empty box?  Hitchcock explains that such devices were “MacGuffins,” they, unto themselves, were of no importance, they were only devices to move the plot along, as it could contain anything you wanted.  And so, is our alien friend onto creating his own worlds, if only he had the imagination?  Will he (we) ever know the purpose of his arrival?  Maybe at one time, he (we) did know the purpose, the end result, the connection of such a union but it seems to have all dissipated “…into thin air, leaving not a wisp behind!”  Are we the better for knowing him (or he, us)?  Or, does it even matter…?  A tale of hopelessness, maybe.

     As always, Mouawad and Van Voris are an unmovable force, an unstoppable team, a creative mountain plastered with seemingly disconnected thoughts, discarded ideas…fodder for the little used imaginations of the “unwashed masses.”  Van Voris is a delightful explorer, who has shared many a journey with us over the years and still amazes and satisfies.  He is royalty in the kingdom of Creative Arts!

     I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Spring Awakening—Staged!—SW Portland




Yearnings

     This dramatic musical, winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik from a play by Frank Wedekind.  It is directed by Melissa Myers, choreographed by Sacred Kaltenthaler and musical direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing for one more performance at the Artists Rep space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through August 11th (bless Artists Rep for giving them a home for this production).  For further information, go to their sites at

     Be warned from the outset, this is a very adult show.  “Growing up is hard to do,” as the old song goes and, in this, case, could be deadly (our current times mirror this somewhat).  This story has roots in other musicals like Hair and Rent.  And, like those powerful pieces, there are harsh lessons to be learned.

     This tale has a group of budding, young adults, being raised in a very authoritarian, private school, somewhere and sometime in Germany.  The teachers (as well as all adult roles, are played by Jessica Hirschhorn and Heath Hyun Houghton) concentrate on the classic artists of the time, such as Wagner, Nietzsche, Goethe and Luther and separate the classes by gender.  The teens’ parents are equally harsh.  No adult influence gives any instructions to the sexual awakenings the teens will experience, or even how babies are made.

     So, left to their own devices, they must content themselves with pictures from books, stories from their comrades or relieving the itch with private, sexual fantasies.  One young couple, Melchior (Isaiah Rosales) and Wendla (Sofia Vilches), begin to experience each other in the “biblical sense” and discover the responsibilities and consequences of such actions.

     Another hyper, young man, Moritz (Paul Harestad) seems unusually disturbed by these feelings and is both repulsed and attracted to them.  Even his childhood friend, Ilse (Ronni Lee), who has run off to join an artists’ colony, gives him a glimpse of the freedom and depravities of giving into these desires.  And his father is of no help in understanding these strange new urges and longings, it was just something you didn’t talk about.

     Some, like Martha (Lauren Steele), even associate pain and abuse, from her father, with love.  And there is even the exploration of gay love between two young boys.  All their friends are going through similar “awakenings” but with no engine to guide this runaway train.  Without any adult mentorship, all this dawning of new days in their lives will come to naught, and even, in some cases, lead to tragic results.

     Much like the above musicals I mentioned, there are no easy answers, just lots of hard questions.  But, in this case it seems, without positive adult role models and mentorships, some questioning teens will have rocky adult lives.

     And the music/lyrics (Musical Director, Bray) shadows the story nicely and yet do not overpower it.  The choreography (Kaltenthaler), too, in such expressive number as, “Mama Who Bore Me,” and “Totally Fucked,” is explosive.  Houghton and Hirschhorn are powerful in demanding, multiple roles, oozing a Machiavellian mood everywhere they stepped.  The already mentioned leads, as well as the other students (Celie Straub, Annie Eldridge, Jon Matter, Jerod Packard, Jacob Skidmore and Isaac O’Farrell) composed an exceptional singing and acting ensemble, a tribute to the group’s training.  And Myers has done an outstanding job of staging it with the bare essentials so that the story, characters and music stand out.

     I recommend this show but, as I said, it is very adult in subject matter, so may not be for everyone.  It is reported that the final show, as was this one, is sold out but sometimes folks don’t show up so you might give it a try.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.
But, perhaps, the most important part of this organization, is its purpose.  From a personal perspective of a father on the fruits of its (and OCT’s Young Professionals Company) merits (his daughter, Haley, a much-touted actor as a teen in Portland) is currently playing Mercutio in a play at her college and will graduate this year with a theatre degree).  Anyway, here is his honest take on the company, from a personal letter to me:

“…wonderful alum opportunity Staged! offers its students/graduates. I know Paul Angelo and our new managing director, Paige Rogers, are already excitedly planning next year's shows based on the extremely positive feedback the cast and crew have given them about this experience.  Honestly, I'm just happy to have the chance to share the fruits of this program that was so important in Haley's trajectory, with you.”

     As most people may know by now, I am a fierce advocate for young people and promoting the advance of theatre training for them to build confidence, promote teamwork, build character and awareness, have a safe atmosphere to explore conflicting feelings and to have the opportunity to step into another person’s shoes and walk around in them, to see other perspectives on cultures, the world and life, itself.  Staged! is a 10-year-old company which “…continues to delight audiences by exploring those things that make us burst into song, focusing on musicals & actors telling stories together onstage.”
Their mission:  “Staged! exists to tell compelling human stories through song, and to nurture talent both onstage and off.  With musical theatre pared down to its to its essential musical elements—music, story and song—Staged! produces stellar musical theatre and provides pre-professional training to young people.”

     In this extremely explosive and negative atmosphere that we are currenting existing in, we need future generations that will have the character and courage to stand up to the strife and stress of this charged atmosphere and make changes that will help build a more compassionate society worldwide.  The sidebars are present now, with women forging the path for equality and respect, and Youth are standing up to the NRA and Congress to curb violence on the young.  What they seek, in part, is discovering Truth and Honesty and Compromise in building inroads and relationships, all of which true theatre folk must possess to be Artists.  The reason for our existence lies more in the writings of poets and dreamers, than they do in science and math.  Our Essence cannot be quantified.  Theatre training (full of explorers of this sort) is of use, both onstage and in the outside world, make no mistake about it!

     We also need more organizations that will support places for theatre companies to work, instead of developers/building owners only being concerned about the almighty buck.  Theatre companies are becoming orphans all the time for this reason but, even as nomads, they will not be ignored.  
     Invest in the Future, in the Arts and our Artists!

--DJS

Monday, August 6, 2018

Guys and Dolls—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR



The Thorny Path To Salvation

    This classic, fun musical is based on the stories and characters by Damon Runyon, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.  This production is directed by Sharon Maroney, music direction by Jeffery Childs and choreography by Maria Tucker.  It is playing at their summer location (Deb Fennell Auditorium), 9000 SW Durham Rd., in Tigard, through August 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org

    In this climate of the MeToo movement, nowadays, this musical might be considered “politically incorrect.”  Civilization in this country during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s was still in their infancy, as far as equal and respectful treatment of women (as well as ethnics).  And so, this story reflects those times.  Consider it a history lesson of an evolving culture.  That being said, the characters do reflect, in all its sometimes silliness, women who are equal, if not superior, to their male counterparts and, in the end, win the day.

    The plot is drawn from real characters Runyon knew in his time on the streets of NYC.  Other familiar films of his stories from that era were Little Miss Marker (Shirley Temple) and The Lemon-Drop Kid (Bob Hope), all fun but drawn from the underbelly of the big city.  In this incarnation, there are the gamblers/gangsters, their molls and the religious shakings of the Salvation Army.  A test of Good versus Evil, perhaps, when feet of clay will be molded into firmer footings.

    It seems that Sarah (Dru Rutledge) is out to save the derelicts and street hustlers from the seeds of evil.  But she meets her match in Sky (Ryan Reilly), a gambling, man of the first order, with no female strings on him.  And there is also Nathan (Joe Theissen) who runs the largest floating crap game in New York.  His main squeeze is Adelaide (Emily Sahler), the lead dancer of the Hot Box Club, who has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years.  Needles to say, much of the plot revolves around the uniting of these mismatched characters.

    Others, pulling them one way or the other, are the gamblers, Nicely-Nicely (Brandon B. Weaver), Harry (Richard Cohn-Lee) and Benny (Jesse Cromer), with the mob boss, Big Jule (Ethan LeFrance), making them “offers they can’t refuse.”  (a side note—I played Big Jule at SOC in the 60’s under the direction of
Dr. Angus Bowmer and the film actor, Sam Elliot, played him at Clark College during the same era).

    Others in this tug-of-war are the army of the righteous side with Sarah, and headed by the General (Margo Schembre) and Sarah’s mentor, Arvide (Dan Murphy, managing director of B/R).  Who will win in this battle for souls.  Need to see it to find out, don’t you?!

    Some marvelous songs are here, including the title number, “Sit Down Your Rockin’ The Boat” (led by the powerful voice of Weaver) and “Luck Be A Lady” (well sung by Reilly and company).  But the scene-stealing numbers are Adelaide’s Laments (Sahler, who has a belting voice that shakes the rafters).  Rutledge (an operatic voice) and Sahler have a touching number in “Marry the Man Today,” and Sahler and Theissen with the humorous, “Sue Me.”  And one of my favorites, the sentimental ballad, “More I Cannot Wish You,” nicely rendered by Murphy (oddly, the only number cut from the movie).

    Maroney has assembled a top-notch cast and keeps the play moving at a brisk pace.  The well-respected Childs delivers the rousing score well, without over running the singers.  Tucker has a great moment with the Crapshooters’ Ballet.  Ryan J. Moller sparks up the show with colorful, period costumes and The Music And Theatre Company provide the traditional scenery, which aids the play greatly.

    I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Please Underestimate Me—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Photo by Andy Barr
                Duality Times Three


     This introspective play is adapted for the stage from Jay Flewelling’s book of personal essays, by Jason Rouse & Jessica Dart and directed by Rouse.  It is playing at the Portland Playhouse space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot two blocks North of the theatre), through August 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pleaseunderestimateme.com

     I assume you realize that we mere mortals are more than one person?!  For example, you are a different character when around close friends; around family; around a loved one; around co-worker and/or schoolmates, etc.  This is well shown in the excellent animated film from Pixar, “Inside Out” or the very good film, “Being John Malcovich,” (or the extreme case of Jekyll & Hyde, if you will) as they all show different aspects of being the same person.

     In this case, the author, Jay Flewelling (an actor on stage, as well), is also played   by himself and five other actors (Rose Bonomo, Stephanie Cordell, Scott Engdahl, Shareen Jacobs and Savira Kambhu) are different stages of his life, as well as other characters in it.  And he certainly has had a varied life and learning experiences up to this point.

     Consider being raised in a Fundamentalist, Christian household, even speaking in tongues at their local place of worship; discovering his love of horses at an early age when his parents rented out their field to a group for their use, only to find out they were part of a radical organization; being a bully to those he felt were “deviates,” until he discovered the reason for his “hatred;” dealing with being fat as a child; and finding a certain peace when working for a group that consisted of military people, gays and the “riff-raff.”  Finding, ultimately, that we all are united under the skin and can all work together for a common good (a lesson not yet learned on a universal scale!).

     But what is probably most remarkable, is that much of his progress as a human being, was because people underestimated him.  When that happened, he found he could rise to the occasion and prove them wrong.  And so, when someone tells you, you can’t climb trees or play football or be a politician because you’re a girl, prove them wrong!  When you are jeered or laughed at because of your ethnic origin or color of your skin and thought inferior, prove then wrong!  When you (or someone else) are bullied or made fun of because of different beliefs, and that you don’t conform to the crowd, stand taller than them and be a leader, not a lemming…and pretty soon all those “thems” will be gone!

     This show will take up about an hour of your time but it will be well spent, I assure you.  The dividing of a person’s character into different segments is a clever device and well presented by Rouse and Flewelling and a talented cast.

     I recommend this show.  The book on which it’s based is also on sale at the box office.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, July 9, 2018

Chess—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


              Rules of the Game


    This musical with music by the performers/writers for ABBA, Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by Richard Nelson, is being directed by John Oules, with music direction by Darcy White and choreography by Laura Hiszczynskyj, is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through August 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    It’s amazing, after all these centuries, countries have still not learned that to co-exist peacefully for everybody’s benefit, is the best of all possible worlds.  Instead, we have, even today, leaders that feel that one-upmanship, saber-rattling and bragging about who’s got the “biggest button,” are admiral traits in our leaders.  I thought that kind of childish behavior was something we grow out of but, I guess, I was wrong…oops, sorry, that is an insult…to children!

    The Cold War of the 50’s, chiefly between the U.S. and Russia, has been expanded now to include North Korea, as well as the Middle East, and has heated up considerably.  But in 1980, a “gentleman’s match” was to take place in which the two chess champions of both the USSR and the United States were to take place.  In this incarnation of that period, these adversaries across a game board, could not be more different.

    Freddie (Norman Wilson), from the U.S., is a bit of a playboy and has little respect for his opponent.  He has let fame go to this head. His agent or, better yet, “handler”, is Walter (Joey Cóté), who works behind the scenes to make sure all goes smoothly.  Anatoly (Kurt Raimer), a gentleman, is a family man with his wife, Svetlana (Megan Misslin).  His “handler” is Molokov (Bobby Jackson), who has the interests of his county to contend with, as well as his client. 

    The wild card in all of this is Florence (Courtney Freed), who was born in Hungary (behind the “Iron Curtain,” at the time), but is now Freddie’s coach (and ex-lover).  Her father, Gregor (Doug Zimmerman), who taught her chess, has disappeared.  So, one might say she has a type of allegiance to both countries.  And one should not forget the Arbiter/referee (Matt Brown), who has a god-like complex and takes his job very seriously.

    If you haven’t yet surmised, the actual focus of the game is not on the board these two compete on, but the much larger stakes between two opposing powers, as to who will have the upper hand in that after the match has been completed.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the story.
The direction and cast are super, but the story is dated, as the “chess match” has reached more dangerous levels at this point, and added other “gamesters” to the mix.  There are some powerful moments in songs, especially “Anthem” (Raimer), “Pity the Child” (Wilson), all of Freed’s songs, with her amazing voice, and the famous, “One Night in Bangkok,” for its dances.

    I recommend this play, mainly for the terrific job the cast does.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Adroit Maneuvers—Lighthouse Arts—SE Portland



           The Revolutionists


    The World Premiere of this searing drama is written, directed and produced by Michael Bertish.  It is playing at the Imago space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside) through July 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.adroitpdx.com

    We all have, I believe, moments in our lives when things just don’t click for us.  We may feel out of step with the rest of the world, or it with us.  Some are small issues and we just adapted to whatever.  Others are pretty monumental and their paths could affect the course of the world in a negative way.  And so, it is up to those few, those precious few, to step up to the plate and say, “No More!” and a revolution is born.  Such was the case in a certain time period in the 1700’s in America.  Also, currently, the MeToo Movement.  And between that earlier era and now, there was something called WWII, the Nazis and a band of brave souls who stood up to them. 

Tilde (Diane Kondrat) is an elderly Jewish lady, now living in a flat in NYC in the mid-90’s.  She is a survivor of this Evil Empire and their ugly plan to wipe them out.  But, possibly more important, she was a member of the Resistance in Austria, where her home was.  But age is catching up with her, and her grandson, Micky (Morgan Lee) is curious about her past and, so now, may be the time to tell her story….  (It gets tricky at this point, since so few actors were playing many roles, that I may have gotten character names mixed up, so I apologized if I did).

Tilde claims she knew and became friends with Freud (Chris Porter) and his wife, Martha (Jody McCoy) and Einstein (Gary R. Powell), and even knew Hitler (Leif Norby), before he came to power, as a street painter in a café where she and her mother, Amalia (Amy Joy Allahdadi) would frequent. 

    But things were changing very quickly in Austria in the thirties, with the takeover of many countries by the Nazis, and so café life, the hub of social and political activity, was disintegrating.  People had to leave, including the Pianist (Jeffrey Michael Kauffman) of the café and his finance, Edith (Sumi Wu), a violinist.  Even the café owner, Max (no program credit for this role but assume it’s Gerry Birnbach) is degraded but he, with Tilde, join the Resistance.

    Her arduous journey from there to 1996 is compelling, with many more characters adding to the story, played by Ethan Sloan, Joey Kelly, Matthew Ostrowski, and Emily Nash.  Can’t tell you more without being a spoiler, but it is a fascinating story.  Know that struggles are not yet over in this world and, as pointed out in this tale, Monsters are not born but are created by a mob, and they give the Beast a credibility and importance.  If this situation echoes with certain leaders of our current international conflicts, we can only hope that change is in the wind, in which a world will work together for a more compassionate and prosperous future for all.

    The cast is first-rate, with Lee and Norby standing out, of the supporting players.  And Kondrat is amazing as Tilde, as she is rarely offstage in this almost three-hour production and her quick switches from one age to another are astounding.  She is in a class by herself and the best performance I’ve seen this year!  Bertish has quite an impressive story to tell and it holds you for the entire narrative.
Some suggestions I would make on the script, though, are that when the story veers from Tilde’s person tale, those scenes could be trimmed or cut.  Also, an easier way to list the cast/characters might be to do it as they appear in the play.  The character names of the actors playing Hitler, Max and the Violinist (Sumi Wu, who is terrific on her instrument) are not listed and it should be a clearer defining of these roles (similar problem happened with PCS’s “Astoria”).  Also, the title could be changed, as it doesn’t give any clear concept of the story.
I highly recommend this play.  

    If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mamma Mia!—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR


Life at Full Throttle
This very popular musical is from music and lyrics by ABBA (Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus) and some songs with Stig Anderson.
  The original concept for the story was conceived by Judy Craymer, with the book by Catherine Johnson, and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.  It is directed & choreographed by Lyn Cramer and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at their space next to Tigard High School, Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Rd., through July 22nd. For more information, go to their site at www.broadwayrose.org or call 503-620-5262.
When you hit your sunset years, it finally occurs to you that Life is like a fleeting wisp of smoke, that settles for too brief a time on a distant land, then is blown away to its next journey, somewhere into the Netherlands, to provide a soul, once again, another “awfully, big adventure.”
  But, while here, in this too short space of time, we should make use of every moment to play, love, inspire and, by enriching this world with our unique talents, we have hopefully left it a better place for the next generation to settle in and build on.
Donna (Peggy Taphorn) has had her space in the sun, on her Greek Island, running an Inn for about 20 years, and raising, as a single mom, her daughter, Sophie (Sophie Moshofsky).
  But changes are in the wind and her daughter has found the man of her dreams, Sky (Aaron Stewart), and so a wedding is planned.  Which means, of course, a huge party, with Donna’s two best friends attending, the luscious, Tonya (Lisamarie Harrison) and the spunky, Rosie (Laura McCulloch).
And, of course, that means Sophie’s best friends must also attend, the sassy & exotic, Lisa (Jalena Montrond) and the fun-loving, Ali (Shanise Jordan).
  There are also some very available young studs arounds for any unattached females, helpers at the Inn, the sleek, Pepper (Charles Grant) and the energetic, Eddie (Colin Stephen Kane).   
Only one teeny-weeny little fly in the ointment, she wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, as per tradition.
  Only one small problem, she doesn’t know who her dad is, so she invites all three of the potential suitors, Sam (Andrew Maldarelli), the designer, Bill (Joey Klei), the writer, and Harry (Matthew H. Curl), the banker, of that fateful time period when she was conceived, to the ceremony, in the hopes of finding out who her real dad is (doesn’t occur to them, I guess, to get a blood test, but then again, there wouldn’t be any story if that happened…).  Can’t tell you the rest without spoiling the tale but, trust me, it’s a lively one.
All the popular songs are there, including the showstoppers, “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.”
  The songs and dances are a-plenty, all very well executed by an extremely talented troupe of performers, with nary a weak link in the bunch.  Harrison knocks ‘em dead with, “Does Your Mother Know,” and McCulloch explodes with, “Take a Chance on Me,” both show-stoppers.  The dancers excelled, especially in “Voulez-Vous.”  And Taphorn brought the house down with, “The Winner Takes It All”—exceptional!
This production is a winner all around.
  Not only the lead characters, but the singing ensemble and dancers, as well as flashy costumes, Allison Dawe, and a terrific set that revolved, Bryan Boyd.  Cramer has done a splendid production of this very popular show, and Lytle is at his best here as the music director.
I highly recommend this show.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



Sunday, July 1, 2018

Manahatta—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


Heritage of Tears

    This eye-opening play is a World Premiere, written by Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by Laurie Woolery.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre in repertory through October 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

    Most things worth caring about often can come with pain and controversy.  This applies to birthing, obviously, even with a country.  Case in point, the European invasion of the Native American communities in the Americas, and their forced assimilation into our culture, even sans their Native language and customs.  History seems to prove that Man is cruel and greedy when it comes to having Power over others.  And so, in Manhattan, the Native American descendants must deal with the unfair, unwarranted and embarrassing mockery of justice and justification.  “Times, they are a-changin’.”

    It is a sad mark in our history and probably well-known that, according to the early years of our country, Manhattan was sold to the Dutch for a few trinkets, supplies and some wampum.  What was very mis-understood in this trade was that the Native Americans were not familiar with the concept of owning land, and so a war occurred and an ugly part of our history was forged.

    The story very smoothly travels back and forth in time in Manahatta/Manhattan, from the 17th century to the 21st century, with a cast of seven playing all the roles.  We explore the lives of these Lenape people of both ages.  There is present-day Jane (Tanis Parenteau), who is a whiz with numbers, lands a job on Wall Street (in a small way, reclaiming her heritage).  Her older sister, Debra (Rainbow Dickerson), has stayed at home in Oklahoma to care for their ailing Mother, Bobbie (Sheila Tousey), who has mortgage their home to the hilt and may be in danger of losing it.  They also are part of the Lenape tribe when the Dutch invaded their territory.

    The fourth Native American that travels in time, is Luke (Steven Flores), who has been adopted by the local choir director, Michael (David Kelly), and now works in his bank, as well, as a loan officer, friend of Jane’s but also a servant of the bank.  Michael also floats in time and is a pastor of the church, Jonas, in the Dutch community.  There are also two executives in the Wall Street firm, Joe (Danforth Comins), somewhat sympathetic to Jane, and Dick (Jeffrey King), a tiger when crossed in business.  They both are leaders in the Dutch colony.

    Their story swings back and forth, also, between parallel worlds and how they often intersect with each.  It is a complicated process, so won’t go into any more details, as it might just confuse you, but it is smoothly rendered on the stage.  One world is fortified in unyielding concrete and the other, a type of Garden of Eden, in which the Devil(s) raises its ugly head and they are forced to leave.
The actors are all excellent, with special kudos going to Tousey, as the wise mother of the clan.  Her calm demeanor and wise counsel are the heart of the story.  Woolery has a solid hold on this play, as she has kept the settings simple to let the tale speak for itself.

    I highly recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

 
Dennis (reviewer), Laura (bar-keep), Greg (bar mgr.)
Dave (patron)
The Black Sheep

    As you might know, this is my favorite eating/imbibing place in town.  It features Brit food, in honor of the Bard’s time, and is even open late to indulge OSF patrons.  The food is exceptionally good and the company even better.  Greg, the bar manager, treats you like old friends and Laura is a delight as the elfin sprite of the pack.  Taylor is always jolly in her bearing and Dedra is the expert to ask on desserts.  You must try their homemade ice cream, something I believe they could package and sell on their own if they chose.  Many good dishes, drinks, staff and atmosphere.  I give it an A+, as I highly recommend it, and tell them if you go that Dennis sent you.  

See part of their joyous bunch in the enclosed pic. and go to their site at
www.theblacksheep.com and look for the Red Door on the Plaza for a visit. 
“The place where you belong!”

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Book of Will—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Kevin Kenerly, Jefferey King.
Photo by Jenny Graham

A Legacy of Loyalty

     This revealing look at Shakespeare’s times is a West Coast Premiere by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Christopher Liam Moore.  It is playing at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in repertory, through October 13th.  For more information, go to their site at           www.osfashland.org

    Fame may be fleeting but friends are forever!  When the Final Judgement is rendered, who will stand by our sides and attest for us?  It will be, I believe, our actions and deeds, our own words and thoughts, and our friends.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and so, this life, too, will pass into obscurity…save this, the words we writ and utter as to the human condition, preserved by those who believed in us, are the most precious gifts we can offer future generations, and thus, such as it is with this tale….

    It seems that several months after the Bard’s death, his plays have been scattered as so much seed being blown about randomly by the wind.  His words misconstrued, scenes missing and whole sections rewritten.  And so, it is up to a few of his most loyal companions, Heminges (Jeffrey King), and his wife Rebecca (Kate Mulligan) and daughter, Alice (Kate Hurster), Condell (David Kelly) and his wife, Elizabeth (Catherine Castellanos) and, for a time, Richard Burbage (Kevin Kenerly), the lead actor of this acting troupe, The King’s Men, to put right what is being torn asunder.  And so, amongst much drink and little money, they attempt the impossible.

    How to assemble such a feat, with bits and pieces strewn here and there.  But, where there’s a “Will,” there’s a way.  They find Crane (Cristofer Jean), a lover of his words, who has his own secret stash.  Then there is the matter of printing it all, which involves, perhaps, hiring the self-same printer, the blind, William (Kenerly, again) and his son, Isaac (Jordan Barbour), who had pirated much of the Bard’s work in the first place.  And then financing must be secured to finish such a massive undertaking, and so they seek out the “Dark Lady (Castellanos, again),” now a published poet, the Muse of Will’s Sonnets, and his admirer and rival, Ben Jonson (Daniel T. Parker), a rather famous author in his own right.

    After some false starts, a couple of deaths of important members, doubts and bitter conflicts, they trudge ahead to preserve, perhaps the greatest writer the world has known.  It is a trek, inspired by love and loyalty, which will raise high the flag of friendship and will forever seal beauty on the written page and stage.
This is an epic story by Gunderson and one little known to the general public.  And so, bringing it to light, is a monumental task and one that deserves being extended into two or three parts, rather than trying to condense it into a couple hour show.  What is there is terrific but I feel it needs to be expanded to show the full force of this tale and Gunderson’s loving treatment of it and its characters.

    Moore has done a first-rate job of keeping the story coherent and staging it in a sparse setting so that the plot and characters take center stage.  The cast is quite impressive in this show (as they always are at OSF) “…and each [person], in [their] time, plays many parts.”  It is truly an amazing story.

    I recommend this play.  If you do see it, tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Romeo and Juliet—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR


William Thomas Hodgson and Emily Ota
Photo by Jenny Graham
The Death of Innocence

    This classic, romantic tragedy by Shakespeare, is directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artistic Director of Artists Rep in Portland, OR).  It is playing, in repertory, at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre through October 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org

    Our teen years are a tricky period.  We are unaware that we are not the center of the universe, nor do other people in our secluded realm have any importance, nor do we sense they believe differently than we do.  We do not connect, yet, older people with us at a later age.  We believe we are fearless and will live forever, this we surmise in our Youth.  Not yet aware of the shackles of adulthood, nor have we completely shed the feathers of our innocent childhoods.  We, as teens, are at a vulnerable and dangerous age.

    Such was the plight of Romeo (William Thomas Hodgson) and Juliet (Emily Ota), barely into their teens in Verona in the 1600’s.  Their two wealthy families, the Capulet’s and Montague’s, have been warring for many years, although neither can recall when it all got started, nor why.  Dad (Greg Watanabe) & Mom (Amy Newman) Capulet, keep a tether on their headstrong daughter, relying on her Nurse (Robin Goodrin Nordli), to keep a trained eye on her, as they have her promised to Paris (Armando McClain), a noble, as a future husband.

    Likewise, Dad (Richard Elmore) & Mom (Monique Holt) Montague have an equally rebellious son, as he runs around with a pretty rough crowd, mostly consisting of his cousin, Benvolio (Julian Remulla) and his best friend, Mercutio (Sara Bruner), who always seem to be getting in scrapes with Tybalt (Derek Garza), the mean-tempered cousin of Juliet, and his mates.  Not even the potent power of the Prince (Christiana Clark) of the region, nor the calming influence of Friar Laurence (Michael J. Hume), can sooth these savage beasts.
I doubt that there are more than two people left in the world that have not read or seen the story and outcome of this tale of “star-crossed lovers,” as it does not end happily.  The world is full of tales of stubborn parents and mis-guided youth, but this is probably the most pronounced, as the Bard is justly considered the greatest of playwrights because of the universal and timeless appeal of his tales.  From poetic prose, to rap, to ballet, to a full-blow, award-winning musical, proves the power of that statement. 

    And why is this incarnation, of this oft-produced play, special?  Rodriguez, of course, at the helm, who has proven himself a worthy director many times over at Artists Rep and has provided us with a more “traditional” view of this story, with a fuller script of the play, I believe, than often seen, and a keen eye for casting the best person for the role, regardless of gender or ethnicity, the much-preferred way of casting a play, as far as I’m concerned.  The costumes by Leah Piehl are quite amazing, too.

    Both Hume and Nordli, in two of the best characters roles of any of his plays, can wear proudly the mantel of doing these parts proud.  But the stunner of the evening is Bruner, unforgettable as Mercutio, as she owns the stage whenever she is on it!  Her bravado and swagger give us the view of a Youth, doomed almost from the beginning…a character out of place and step with her times.  A person thwarted before she has begun to show her metal.  Her Queen Mab speech is the best I’ve seen and her death scene is remarkable, as she fights to preserve her life’s blood from draining and yet has her wits about her to rail against the fading of the light.  Bravo!

    I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.



Ashland Springs/Hills

    As always, we again stayed at one of these two places, this time the Ashland Hills, their resort location about three miles South of the downtown area.  It has a number of varieties of rooms and suites, as well as a swimming pool, hot tub, deli, et. al. amenities.  They also have a super buffet breakfast, including sausage patties, waffles, cereals (hot & cold), bagels, toast, juices, fresh fruit, coffee/tea, milk, etc., that is included in the price of the room.  The Springs, the downtown location, next to OSF, also has secured parking.  I highly recommend both of these places, both having reasonably prices, very comfortable rooms and a friendly staff.  For more information on both these locations, go to their sites at www.NeumanHotelGroup.com  

    If you do stay there, tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Secretaries—Profile Theatre—SW Portland


Photo Credit: David Kinder
The Avenging Angels

This very dark comedy is written by Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron (The Five Lesbian Brothers) and is directed by Dawn Monique Williams.  It is playing at the Artists Rep’s space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

It is amazing to think that this was written about 25 years before the current Me, Too, movement but it does give you an idea of how far back (and much further) the abuse and disrespect and inequality of women has been going on.  This genre of expression could be ranked with the darkly comic horror films of the 90’s era, such as Motel Hell, The Stepford Wives and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And, as demented as you think they are in this story, you root for them all the same (I did).  Go figure….

As the tale goes, there is this lumber camp in Big Bone, OR, where the secretarial staff is totally populated by women.  And the head honcho of them is Susan (Andrea White), a martinet-type of leader on the outside, who runs a tight ship, but does have her odd quirks that you’ll get to know after she cozy’s up to you.  Ands she has her followers among the rabble. 

Her minions consist of the ditzy, Ashley (Kelly Godell), who has the record among the pool of the most “boyfriends,” and is the current secretary of the month, for several weeks running (and she has her prize, a cashmere sweater, to prove it).  Then there is Peaches (Jen Rowe), the effusive, boisterous and over-weight (a no-no, according to club rules) of the pack.  And Dawn (Jamie M. Rea), the outspoken, avowed lesbians of the mob, who takes no prisoners.

Into this motley crew appears the “new-kid-on-the-block,” Patty (Claire Rigsby), who is fresh out of school, naïve, and more than a little susceptible to any outrageous influences, in which there are aplenty in this outfit.  Of course, she must immediately be taken under their wings (or, in this case, maybe talons) and educated as to what’s important in this Life-style, such as to garner a lumberman’s jacket, to control your weight through a rigid diet, to abstain from sex, obey the rules of the club and have an accident-free environment…well, not so much, perhaps, in this category.

How this all comes together, I cannot tell you without giving away secrets, but it’s a dozy, trust me.  And, keep in mind, this is definitely not for everyone.  If you enjoyed the films mentions early in this review, then this may be your “type of shake.”  If not, well, consider this a warning.  Williams has garnered a top-notch group of ladies for this whirlwind experience (I can only imagine the rehearsals) and she has kept it moving, with rapid set changes and explosive performances.

This cast is exceptional in the portraying of the complexities of these characters and keeping them within the bounds of believability, just enough so you are sucked into their world, too.  Kudos to all, as these are some of the strongest performances I’ve seen onstage!

I recommend this play but beware that it involves some very adult and explicit material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Maltese Bodkin—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland


“What Dreams Are Made On”
This mystery spoof is written by David Belke and directed by Sarah Fuller.
  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (off Lombard, parking lot across the street)., through June 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

In all our lives, there is probably that one elusive, impossible dream we want to achieve, which will make all our desires come true.
  For some, it is that secret place, buried in our imaginations, where all is tranquil…our Shangra-La, El Dorado, Glocamora, Neverland, Brigadoon, et. al.  For others, it is an object that will bring us wealth and power.  Such is the case with the Falcon from Maltese or, in this case, a jeweled dagger, or bodkin, that may hold the self-same power.
The story follows somewhat closely the same one as the classic, film-noir movie, “The Maltese Falcon.”
  And the style is the same with a hard-boiled shamus, Birnam Wood (Paul Roder), who also discovers his partner, Archie, has been killed while working on a case.  The plot is steeped in that genre with narration by the lead character, garbed in the traditional crumpled trench coat (like Columbo), and sloppy hat, who is a hard-drinker, down-on-his-luck, and smokes too much.
But he has his ever-faithful Girl-Friday, Charlotte (Chelsea Read), over-eager, a bit ditzy and smitten over her boss.
  And this is the part where a whole array of femme fatales, mysterious strangers, and nasty critters crawl out of the woodwork.  And, ‘tis true, but these role models step out of the scenery from 1600 Shakespearean England (no explanations as to how these two genres come to be together, so just go with the flow).
But, being that times are hard, he takes on a case that may solve the death of his partner, as well as retrieving the fabled jeweled bodkin/dagger.
  And, of course, an alluring woman, Viola (Lura Longmire) turns his head, as he finds out that Archie was working for her and she is also searching for her long-lost brother, Sebastian (Skye McLaren Walton).  But he will need help with this quest, so he searches the slums, via his sotted buddy, Falstaff (Stan Yeend), with his main squeeze, Mistress Quickly (Christina Taft), and also scours royal society, through his good friend, Donalbain (Chris Murphy).
Meanwhile, to muddy the waters even more, he is stalked by a sneaky villain, Iago (Samuel Alexander Hawkins), and approached by the helpful, Mercutio (Blaine Vincent III), both desirous of the famed dagger.
  But Wood knows there is someone more powerful behind all this and that the disappearance of the brother, and the jeweled dagger, are somehow connected with his friend’s death.  Really can’t tell you more without spoiling the mystery but know that the author does know his film noir, as well as Shakespeare, and blends the two genres successfully for the most part.
The cast of nine really does quite a good job of portraying, in some cases, as many as three characters.
  There is a very amusing Monty Python type of repartee between R&G (from “Hamlet”) from Vincent & Hawkins, a deliciously droll Richard III from Murph and a super incarnation of the ‘40s sleuth from Roder.  Fuller has done well with her casting and manages to keep the play moving at a very brisk pace.  All in all, a complicated thriller with a huge nod to Willy S. and pot-boiler mysteries, presented by a very talented cast.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Broken Bone Bathtub—N. Portland area


“The Kindness of Strangers”
This one-woman show, written by and featuring Siobhan O’Loughlin and produced locally by Jesse Braeuninger.
  It is playing in various homes of local individuals in their bathrooms for an audience of 4-8 people through June 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.brokenbonebathtub.com

This is more of a group therapy session than a “traditional” play but, all directors/producers /actors know that creating a play with actors often results in psychological aspects of the character being examined, as well as one’s own psyche, so this process is just being extended, in a way, to present company, the audience, an intimate gathering, in an intimate atmosphere.
 
And where would an individual be the most intimate and vulnerable?
 Probably in a bathroom or bedroom, stripped of all perceived perceptions.  And, under what circumstances?  Sex, of course, but also after an injury or during an illness, as one’s guards are often down.  And, so we have the bathtub, complete with water, and only suds between us, and a and a lady with a broken hand.
She will, in part, during the next hour, relate to you how this came to be and how she felt it changed her life and led her to this venue.
  But her purpose is far more astute than that.  She tells of her early friendships with other girls/friends and the experiences with group events, such as a type of whip-cream melee.  Obviously, the fun, freedom and intimacy during those times generated a peace within the “savage beast” of a human…and inhibitions be damned.
As she got older and grew up in the NYC area, she felt that biking was the most convenient mode of transportation, and thus, a part of this accident, with her now sporting an injured hand, was a result.
  But the story is only the catalyst for the real purpose of this exercise.  She discovered, while infirmed, that she needed the help of others to some of the simplest, daily routines, like bathing.  And, through this quest for a solution, she embarked on a remarkable journey that has had far-reaching effects, albeit in just small groups at a time, in over 5 countries and 300 performances!
I don’t want to give too much away, as that might be considered a spoiler, but will say that only about half the time you are there, are you listening to her story.
  As she relates her experience, she discovered the fact that she needed others to help her. So, she asks the small gathering assembled, of their experiences with such things as crying in public, being compassionate, giving hugs, relating unpleasant news to a loved one, etc., as she found out, through her own, personal experiences, that we need each other to survive.  “No Man is an Island.”
And what she encouraged the audience to relate is quite amazing.
  They all related very personal accounts of their experiences.  And why is that?  Because you are in an intimate setting with someone more vulnerable than you and with strangers that you’ll probably never see again.  And the secret ingredient for this studious mix of mis-matched spices?  Ms. O’Loughlin herself, as she gently stirs the pot for the most unique taste ever, an excellent chef is she!
Make no mistake about it, this is an event, an experience, possibly a new wave of the first order, which will merge people into dialogues, like she does, and we will come out with a better understanding of others.
  As the song goes, “what the World needs now, is Love, sweet Love, something there’s just too little of.”  And it starts with a small band of brothers and sisters, like this, and hopefully will spread like a tidal wave over the face of the Earth!
O’Loughlin is onto something.
  She comes across as personable, candid, understanding, and able to deal, through dialogue, with any “blue meanies” that invade her/our space.  I wanted to reach out by the end and give her a hug and say she touched me.  You can’t help but fall in love with her and lovable is a good trait to have in this unsettled day and age.  (By the way, Siobhan, the tear-jerker I love with Robert Downey, Jr. is called “Heart and Soul,” worth seeing.

I highly recommend this show but it will only seat, depending on the location, a maximum of 8 people, so best get your tickets now.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.